The Miami Herald
Mon, Mar. 01, 2004

No celebration; this 'Little Haiti' uneasy



Among the tin-roofed shanties and cheap pensiones where Haitian migrants scrape the bottom of an already sunken economy and try not to draw much attention, the faces were stoic Sunday afternoon, the mood tentative.

Like every weekend here, they gathered on milk crates and plastic chairs in little cliques -- women cooking corn and rice in scratched-up steel vats, men talking low and drinking Presidentes.

There were no fireworks, no dancing in the streets.


The people of this ''Little Haiti'' simply listened to news of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's departure on the radio and kicked around the question of whether life in their country might improve.

''I want a country that is better, whether it is with Aristide or with the opposition,'' said Arturo l'Ndol, 53. ``I don't care. I just want it to be better.''

L'Ndol still has relatives in Haiti, where violence still raged and the future was ominously uncertain. He looked tired. He and his generation had gone through so many fits and stops of brutality and repression over the decades that it was hard to root for any one side. ''We are not for this or against that,'' he said. ``We are just for the country.''

Down on the corner, in front of a shuttered storefront, a group of younger men were happy that Aristide was gone. They originally supported him, they said, but grew to despise him as a ''liar'' who ultimately plundered foreign aid and did nothing to make the country better for regular people.

''France loaned all this money, and we never saw it,'' said Shiller Estenor, 30. ``Now at least we can possibly move forward. This is a very critical moment.''

Estenor said the United States and other countries need to intervene and help build the physical and political infrastructure to bring Haiti out of its downward spiral.

But there were some detractors within earshot of his positive comments. A tiny, elderly man leaped out of his plastic seat and started thumping his chest.

''Aristide was a good man,'' he said. Estenor jumped away giggling, and the women peeling plantains around them laughed at the old guy's sudden streak of truculence.

Estenor has been living in this neighborhood since he was 6, but still wants to return to Haiti. ``It is not good to live as an immigrant, where the culture is different, the government doesn't give us respect.''


Unlike Haitians in Miami, Haitians in the Dominican Republic have made little progress in gaining a political or economic foothold.

Of a dozen Haitians interviewed for this story, all said emphatically that they would return to Haiti if they could find a way to survive there.

''We need a professional leader,'' Lily Hanson, 48, who gets by on the odd construction job and producing kitschy paintings for tourists. ``We just need a good man, peaceful and democratic.''